US government to close 800 data centres, move to cloud by 2015

The White house has announced that it is to close down over 800 of its federdal data centres and move much of its work to the cloud by 2015.

There are around 2,100 data centres run by the government throughout the US, so this plan suggests cutting nearly half of them. The work that would have been done on these isolated data centres will then by shifted to a larger, wider cloud network as part of a “cloud first” policy.

The news came from Obama’s Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, who has been a big supporter of cloud computing. In his report he highlighted the benefits of the cloud over traditional data centres.

The ability to rapidly scale was a key focus, with Kundra citing the example of an anonymous multimedia company being able to scale up from 25,000 customers to 250,000 in three days, thanks to a cloud environment, whereas government facilities lack this ability, resulting in crashes, downtime and lost businesses.

Kundra said that the process will come in three parts or stages: using commercial cloud technologies whenever feasible, launching private government clouds for more sensitive matters, and using regional clouds with state and local governments when applicable.

The benefits of this approach will be three-fold: it will save money by using a “pay-as-you-go” approach, where investment is only needed as the system scales upwards, not up front; it will add additional flexibility into government systems; and it will speed up things by getting rid of lenghty procurement and certification processes.

The cloud first policy means that government agencies will have to work on the cloud “whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists.” The important word here is “secure”, particularly when it comes to government data, which is likely to contain highly sensitive information.

Cloud computing is still fairly new technology and data breach laws were not really designed for it. Current laws tend to suggest that a business who uses a third party to host data is liable for any breach of that data, even if the vulnerability is found within the third party’s service. 

This raises some questions regarding the US government’s plan to use commercial cloud services whenever possible, as any security issues found in them will mean that the government itself is liable for the exposed information, a situation the Obama administration clearly would not want.

This is most likely already on Kundra’s mind, who said: “To facilitate this shift, we will be standing up secure government-wide cloud computing platforms.”